Preston Frazier’s Best Songs of 2019 list includes rock, jazz and R&B from Toto, Catherine Russell, Los Lobos, Christopher Cross and Raphael Saadiq, along with a shout out to the continuing resonance of an old favorite from Walter Becker …
“WAITIN’ JUST FOR YOU,” by SUSIE BLUE AND THE LONESOME FELLAS (JAZZ): Written by Carolyn Leigh and Henry B. Glover, this Best Songs of 2019 entry is a perfect platform for Susie Blue’s jazzy Western swing music. Solitaire Miles’ harmonies with vocalist Saalik Ahmad Ziyad are tender, evocative and yearning. The timbre and feel of the vocals could have come out of a time capsule.
“SOMETHING KEEPS CALLING,” by RAPHAEL SAADIQ (R&B): The former Tony! Toni! Tone! star has made great solo albums from the start. 2019’s Jimmy Lee is no exception. ”Something Keeps Calling” is a compelling story of addiction and hope. Lyrical heft wrapped in guitar-driven R&B.
“LOST RIVER,” by FREEDONIA (JAZZ/ROCK): This Christopher Cross-led jazz-rock outfit has all the trappings of Steely Dan, minus the snark. Always a craftsman, Cross leads this horn-driven band through complex yet captivating songs. The opening song from their second release Firefly is a driving, instrumental shuffle which is properly represents the skills of this overlooked band. Get both of their albums, now!
“DEVIL’S TOWER,” by TOTO (ROCK): No, this isn’t “Africa.” The previously unreleased song was started during the phase just after the recording of their Toto IV-era smash hit, and the fast-paced rock groove, driven by Jeff and Mike Porcaro, is unmistakably Toto. The lyrics and lead vocals were completed last year, and are fantastic. This made for a fascinating show opener for the band in 2019. Let’s hope they return to the stage again.
“DREAMLAND,” by LOS LOBOS (ROCK): This Joni Mitchell classic was reimagined by the band from east L.A. for the Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration album and video. The combination of Caribbean and African/Cuban influences is infectious. Los Lobos tie in traditional Mexican instrumentation with vocals provided by Chaka Khan and Marisol Hernandez from La Santa Cecilia. This Best Songs of 2019 honoree is something Joni can be proud of.
“JERSEY BOUNCE,” by PATRICE JEGOU (JAZZ): Patrice Jegou’s If It Ain’t Love is filled with outstanding jazz. ”Jersey Bounce” is big-band realness with a wonderfully enticing arrangement and a vocal by Jegou, which builds to a delightful crescendo. This collaboration with the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra is a delight, and “Jersey Bounce” is partly why.
“THE ARCHITECT (TRIBUTE TO PETER BANKS),” by FERNANDO PERDOMO (ROCK): Fernando Perdomo is an immensely talented musician who has released several great albums over the last few years. The all-instrumental Out to Sea 2 is a mind-blowing progressive-rock journey. “The Architect (Tribute to Peter Banks),” an album bonus track, will leave you with your mouth agape in awe.
“HE MAY BE YOUR DOG, BUT HE’S WEARING MY COLLAR,” by CATHERINE RUSSELL (JAZZ): Catherine Russell’s Alone Together employs a slightly larger production than its predecessor, Harlem On My Mind, but the seasoned vocalist and her seasoned group know how to work arranging magic. “He May Be Your Dog, But He’s Wearing My Collar” is an excellent example of Russell finding the perfect song and matching it with her versatile band. Of course, this Best Songs of 2019 entry would not work without Russell’s delightful vocal delivery. She continues to entice release after release.
“BOOK OF LIARS,” by WALTER BECKER (ROCK): Originally from Walter Becker’s 11 Tracks of Whack, “Book of Liars” has seen a resurgence as of late. There’s a beautiful version on the excellent Monkey House album Friday, which came out earlier this year. Meanwhile, Becker’s estate has also released at least 2 albums worth of songs since his death, one of which was a different version of “Book of Liars.” Subtitled as an early rundown with a surprise piano solo, it’s delightful. Unlike the initial version, this take features a full band. The result boasts a sonic warmth missing in the original. Walter Becker’s guide vocal is equally strong. While the piano solo does seem to catch keyboardist John Beasley by surprise, the feel of the song is whimsical with a tinge of sadness.